cover image Two by Astley

Two by Astley

Thea Astley / Author Putnam Publishing Group $18.95 (288p) ISB

The work of this brilliant Australian writer seems to be gaining ground rapidly here, and none too soon. These are two of her finest works, both short novels of about 140 pages each, and originally published in 1974 and 1972 respectively. As before, they are set in Queensland, Australia's tropical north country, and are written in the highly wrought, intensely poetic style that has become her hallmark, and that dazzles far more often than it confuses. Otherwise, they are almost totally different in time and psychology. A Kindness Cup tells of a small Queensland town in the last century, and of the day when a group of whites massacred some local blacks and took a terrible revenge on one of their own who had befriended them. Twenty years later, amid the self-congratulations of a civic reunion, a former schoolmaster tries to remind the town of its gruesome pastwith all too convincingly horrifying results. The Acolyte is entirely contemporary: the story of a blind pianist-composer who rises to fame on the self-sacrifice and devotion of two womenand the narrator, whose mixture of envy and clearsightedness is chillingly conveyed. Astley is as apt at evoking a cynical 20th century artistic milieu as she is in bringing to smoldering life a long-ago provincial town. She is a writer of astonishing gifts, whose every newly available work is a discovery. (May)